He was one of the first actors publicly to declare his homosexuality, doing so in his 1984 book Being An Actor. In another he revealed his platonic relationship with the theatrical agent Peggy Ramsay who was 40 years his senior.
'I'm not really an activist, although I am aware that there are some political acts one can do that actually make a difference and I think my coming out as a gay man was probably one of the most valuable things I've done in my life. I don't think any actor had done so voluntarily and I think it helped to change the culture.' — Simon Callow: Laughter in the dark, interview The Independent 2004Callow was born in Streatham, London, England, UK, the son of Yvonne Mary (née Guise), a secretary, and Neil Francis Callow, a businessman. His father was of English and French descent and his mother was of Danish and German ancestry. He was brought up Roman Catholic. Callow attended the London Oratory School and then went on to study at Queen's University Belfast ('Queen's') in Northern Ireland where he was active in the Northern Ireland civil-rights movement (1960s), before giving up his degree course to go into acting at the Drama Centre London.
Simon Callow, CBE, is an English actor, musician, writer and theatre director. Callow is one of the most prominent gay actors in Britain, listed 28th in the Independent's 2007 listing of the most influential gay men and women in the UK. In 1999 he was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his services to acting. For some time Callow lived with director Daniel Kramer. They shared a house in Camden, North London, but have now ended their relationship.
Callow's immersion in the theatre began after he wrote a fan letter to Sir Laurence Olivier, the Artistic Director of the National Theatre, and received a response suggesting he join their box office staff. It was while watching actors rehearse that he realised he wanted to act.
Callow made his stage debut in 1973, appearing in The Thrie Estates at the Assembly Rooms Theatre, Edinburgh. In the early 1970s he joined the Gay Sweatshop theatre company and performed in Martin Sherman's critically acclaimed Passing By. In 1977 he took various parts in the Joint Stock Theatre Company's production of Epsom Downs and in 1979 he starred in Snoo Wilson's The Soul of the White Ant at the Soho Poly.
He made his first film appearance, as Schikaneder, in Amadeus in 1984 (having played Mozart in the original stage production at the Royal National Theatre in 1979). His first television role was in Carry On Laughing episode "Orgy and Bess", in 1975, but it was apparently cut from the final print. He starred in several series of the Channel 4 situation comedy, Chance in a Million, as Tom Chance, an eccentric individual to whom coincidences happened regularly. Roles like this and his part in Four Weddings and a Funeral brought him a wider audience than his many critically acclaimed stage appearances.
At the same time, Callow was successful both as a director and as a writer. His Being An Actor (1984) was a critique of 'director dominated' theatre, in addition to containing autobiographical sections relating to his early career as an actor. At a time when subsidised theatre in the United Kingdom was under severe pressure from the Thatcher government, the work's original appearance caused a minor controversy. In 1992, he directed the play Shades by Sharman MacDonald and the musical My Fair Lady featuring costumes designed by Jasper Conran. In 1995 he directed a stage version of the classic French film Les Enfants du Paradis for the RSC. The production was not a success. Callow has also directed opera productions.
One of Callow's best-known books is Love Is Where It Falls, a poignant analysis of his eleven-year relationship with Peggy Ramsay (1980-91), a prominent British theatrical agent from the 1960s to the 1980s. He has also written extensively about Charles Dickens, whom he has played in a one-man show, The Mystery of Charles Dickens by Peter Ackroyd, in the films Hans Christian Andersen: My Life as a Fairytale and Christmas Carol: The Movie, and on television several times including An Audience with Charles Dickens (BBC, 1996) and in "The Unquiet Dead", a 2005 episode of the BBC science-fiction series Doctor Who. He returned to Doctor Who for the 2011 season finale, again taking the role of Dickens.
Callow appeared with Saeed Jaffrey in 1994 British television series Little Napoleons. In 1996 Callow directed Cantabile in three musical pieces (Commuting, The Waiter's Revenge, Ricercare No. 4) composed by his friend Stephen Oliver. Ricercare No. 4 was commissioned by Callow especially for Cantabile. He voice-acted the sly and traitorous Wolfgang in Shoebox Zoo. In 2004, he appeared on a Comic Relief episode of Little Britain for charity causes. In 2006, he wrote a piece for the BBC1 programme This Week bemoaning the lack of characters in modern politics. He has starred as Count Fosco, the villain of Wilkie Collins's novel The Woman in White, in film (1997) and on stage (2005, in the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical in the West End).
In December 2004, he hosted the London Gay Men's Chorus Christmas Show, Make the Yuletide Gay at the Barbican Centre in London. He is currently one of the patrons of the Michael Chekhov Studio London. Callow narrated the audio book of Robert Fagles' 2006 translation of Virgil's The Aeneid.
In July 2006, the London Oratory School Schola announced Callow as one of their new patrons. In November 2007 he threatened to resign the post over controversy surrounding the Terrence Higgins Trust (an AIDS charity of which Callow is also a patron). Other patrons of the Catholic choir are Princess Michael of Kent and the leading Scottish composer James MacMillan. He reprised his role as Wolfgang in Shoebox Zoo and voice-acted the wild and action-seeking Hunter as well.
From 11 July to 3 August 2008, Callow appeared at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Canada in There Reigns Love, a performance of the sonnets of William Shakespeare and also in 2008, he appeared at the Edinburgh Festival performing "Dr Marigold" and "Mr Chops" by Charles Dickens, adapted and directed by Patrick Garland; repeating them from December 2009 to January 2010 at the Riverside Studios and on tour in 2011.
In February 2008, he played the psychiatrist in Chichester Festival Theatre's production of Peter Shaffer's Equus.
Between March and August 2009, he starred as Pozzo in Sean Mathias's production of Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett opposite Sir Ian McKellen (Estragon), Sir Patrick Stewart (Vladimir) and also Ronald Pickup (Lucky). The tour opened in Malvern before travelling to Milton Keynes, Brighton, Bath, Norwich, Edinburgh and Newcastle; its run at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket was extended due to demand.
From June to November 2010, he appeared in a national tour of a new one-man play, Shakespeare: the Man from Stratford, written by Jonathan Bate, directed by Tom Cairns and produced by the Ambassador Theatre Group. The play was renamed Being Shakespeare for its West End debut at the Trafalgar Studios where it opened on 15 June 2011. It was revived at the same theatre in March 2012, prior to a run in New York and Chicago.
Callow has also written biographies of Oscar Wilde, Charles Laughton and Orson Welles. He is currently at work on the third volume of his life of Welles. He has also written an anthology of Shakespeare passages, Shakespeare On Love, and contributed to Cambridge's Actors on Shakespeare series. Callow was also the reader of The Twits and The Witches in the Puffin Roald Dahl Audio Books Collection (ISBN 978-0-140-92255-4) and has done audio versions of several abridged P.G. Wodehouse books that feature, among others, the fictional character Jeeves. They include Very Good, Jeeves and Aunts Aren't Gentlemen. A devotee of classical music, he has contributed articles to Gramophone magazine.
Being an Actor by Simon Callow
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Picador; Revised edition (August 23, 2003)
Amazon: Being an Actor
A new edition of the classic book for actors starting their careers, with new material
Few actors have ever been more eloquent, more honest, or more entertaining about their life and their profession than Simon Callow, one of the finest actors of his time and increasingly one of the most admired writers about the theater.
Beginning with the letter to Laurence Olivier that produced his first theatrical job to his triumph as Mozart in the original production of Amadeus, Callow takes us with him on his progress through England’s rich and demanding theater: his training at London’s famed Drama Centre, his grim and glorious apprenticeship in the provincial theater, his breakthrough at the Joint Stock Company, and then success at Olivier’s National Theatre are among the way stations.
Callow provides a guide not only to the actor’s profession but also to the intricacies of his art, from unemployment—“the primeval slime from which all actors emerge and to which, inevitably, they return”—to the last night of a long run.
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